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Comp claim costs lower when employers choose doctor

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The average medical cost per workers compensation claim is lower in states where employers can choose an injured worker's initial treating health care provider, according to a study published in the latest issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

In states where employers can choose the initial treating provider for employees with low back pain, average medical costs were $308 lower than in states where injured workers are allowed to choose, according to “Length of Disability and Medical Costs in Low Back Pain,” which was sponsored by the Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety.

Meanwhile, states that limit treating provider change had higher medical costs than states that allow a one-time provider change, but there was no significant difference in average medical costs between cases in states that limit initial treating provider change and states that don't, the study states.

States like California and Florida allow employers participating in a managed care organization, preferred provider organization or coordinated care organization to direct workers comp medical care; however, states like Arizona and Massachusetts allow injured workers to choose their providers.

After controlling for individual-level variables, such as age, the study found that average medical costs per case ranged from $1,211 in New York to $4,514 in Texas, and length of disability ranged from 19 days in Missouri to 69 days in Texas.

The study was compiled using more than 59,000 low back pain claims filed between 2002 and 2008 from 49 jurisdictions, including Washington, D.C., and excluding North Dakota and Wyoming due to an insufficient number of cases.